Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse.
We Mamas know who was stirring (and likely not kissing Santa under the mistletoe, either!).
It was us!
We were stirring because, well…the kitchen needed tidying, gifts needed wrapping, stockings needed stuffing and the letter from Santa needed writing.
And as we stirred, our eyes felt heavy and our body tired.
Because this was the last stretch of the long holiday marathon haul.
Yup, holidays are amongst the most stressful times of the year.
Our list of ‘to do’s’ grows exponentially, our children get more excited, our partner becomes more anxious (as your visa bill grows, bank account dwindles and family descends upon your home), our homes feels more cluttered and, inevitably, the shadows under your eyes grow darker.
What drives us?
Sure, there are those romantic images we aspire to.
Greeting card moments: children happily decorating the tree while father reads his newspaper quietly in the corner or has a diplomatic yet thought provoking conversation with his in-laws. Mother chats with her sister over a glass of mulled wine while the perfect dinner roasts. Gifts are wrapped and well-hidden, the table is beautifully laid and the snow gently drifts down.
Back to life. Back to reality.
I mean, I may not be the only one here, but this is not (and I repeat, NOT) what Holidays look like at my house!!
At my house the kids fight over the tree decorations, dad hides in the bathroom with his iPad and nobody likes roast! Screen addiction and cabin fever are rampant.
I have never actually experienced Disney-inspired Holidays. And believe me, I have tried! I have held onto this romantic vision year after year. And surprise surprise! I’ve have been disappointed year after year!
At one point I even began to wonder if they – the songs, the films, the stories – told us this romantic Christmas story as a conspiracy to drive mothers insane in their efforts to make the impossible “festive” dream come true (and single handedly at that!).
After many years of exhausting myself and stressing out my man in my not-so-merry madness, I made the deliberate choice of unraveling the mistakes that sat behind this craziness and decided to make the holidays my own.
Since this momentous shift, the holidays have become something I look forward to!
Sure, the tree might look makeshift and the process chaotic, but rather than yelling at the kids for arguing over who gets to put the angel on top, and sneaking down after they’re in bed to bring the decorations “up to standard”, I can laugh it off and appreciate the imperfection of it all.
We have less gifts and more quality time together, fewer cards go out later but each one gets the love and attention it deserves. The kids do the baking and dinner is something different and fun as we explore creating new holiday rituals that work for us.
It can get messy and stressy, but getting organized and addressing the self-inflicted pressure I placed upon myself has meant more hugs, more naps, less stuff and less overwhelm.
It is not asking too much to enjoy | to relax | to connect with yourSELF, your VALUES and those you LOVE authentically and easily during this time of year.
Read on to learn the top 5 mind-shifts I made to make for a Merry-Mama Holiday Season.
1) Connect with what I want the holidays to feel like.
For whatever reason (and we all have our own unique and beautiful baggage!) Moms put the holidays on a pedestal.
I mean if being the perfect Mom with the perfect family in the perfect house is something we aim for from January to November, this dangerous mission grows tenfold over the holidays.
Even if we aren’t a perfectionist during the year, for some crazy reason, perfectionitis pounces upon us in early December, holds us in its claws throughout the month and spits us out sometime in January (just in time for us to castigate ourselves for not sticking to our resolutions – but that is another story!).
What to do?
Rather than seeking inspiration – consciously or unconsciously – from our past or external influences (thank you Pinterest!)
My personal annual holiday planning ritual always begins like this…
I find a moment to relax into some deep breathing and gradually begin to imagine what I want the holidays to feel like. I connect with this feeling and stay with it. And from this place, I ask myself three questions:
- What are my key priorities over the holidays?
- What activities support these priorities?
- What memories do I want to create? What rituals do I want to make my own?
I write it down. This becomes my foundation.
2) Do Less.
Mom’s terrible tendency of doing it all is closely linked to perfectionitis because perfectionitis is, of course, based on the premise that in order to get it perfect, I have to do it. Therefore, for it all to be perfect – the meal, the tree, the decorations, the music, the gift wrapping, etc… – I have to do it all.
And of course, as with everything, if we believe we have to do it all and we therefore try to do it all, we exhaust ourselves and end up grumpy.
Not fun for Mom. Not fun for anyone who has to be around Mom. (Just ask my husband!)
What to do?
Given that over the Holidays there is clearly more to do in less time, the ideal is to take as much of the day-to-day non-Holiday stuff off your list. Here are three sweet tips:
- Do not to take on any extra projects (these can wait until the New Year)
- Lessen the workload or childcare load as much as you can. Ideally take Holiday-Prep-Savor-the-Season days off
- Organize pre-holiday weekend childcare to allow you to have some time to do whatever it is you need to do (self-care included!). If paying for childcare is not possible, plan some playdate swaps to grab up some free time while the kids are having fun with friends!
3) Buy Less.
I used to be notorious for going overboard during the Holidays. I bought too much food, too many gifts, too many decorations, etc…
In retrospect I can say that this was partially about trying to create that perfect romantic Holiday I aspired to. At a deeper level, I also know that it was about disconnected consumption or buying for reasons linked to external expectations versus internal wisdom.
I was buying the number and types of gifts I thought I should buy in an effort to prove that we had enough, that I was enough. Maybe it was about fitting in. Maybe it was about seeking a sense of fulfillment. And hey, I’m not entirely sure who I was trying to prove this to, but alas…
What to do?
If you are suffering from disconnected consumption know that you are not alone. I mean the entire economy runs on this unconscious need to consume. And over the holidays we really dive deep here.
To avoid it, simply replace it with connected consumption. Connect with your intuition and listen (see #1). Let your choices as a consumer be guided by the values that are important to you.
Let your values influence what you buy and how much you buy.
If you value art, literature or theatre, it might mean buying creative goodies, more books or purchasing tickets to an upcoming play. If quality is a value, then be sure that you buy high quality gifts, making less your more.
And hey, check in with yourself and trust your gut when it says “Enough is enough”. Then stop. (You know that voice that pops up when you’re in the shop or on Amazon that says: “Oh, just one more gift…you don’t want the tree to look sparse or for Jill to feel like she got less?” Ignore it.)
4) Up the soul nourishing self-care ante
Mamas have that terrible tendency to let self-care slip to the bottom of our list when our “to do” list grows and we begin to feel overwhelmed (aka the Holidays). And when we can’t fit self-care in, we start labeling things that don’t necessarily replenish our energy, nourish our souls or lift our spirits as self-care.
I mean, I love manicures, facials, the work Xmas party and a drink with the girls as much as the next Mom, but does it really leave me feeling light and reinvigorated, ready to take on the world of merry madness? Nope. Not really.
What to do?
Stop kidding yourself.
Does this mean that you will need to call a babysitter in even when you’re on holiday “break”? Yes, maybe.
Does it mean that you will need to tell the kids they can’t join you for that walk in the woods because you need to bond with nature alone? Perhaps.
Does it mean you need to figure out what you need to do for yourself and commit to it in order to stay sane? Absolutely!
I have finally gotten to a point where I know what I need in order to replenish my spirit and nourish my soul. Yoga, a walk in the woods, journalling. And I know that I’ll need time and space to do it in order to make sure that I can be fully present and chipper during the holidays.
Remember that feeling we talked about in #1…well, you aren’t going to get it if you don’t take care of you!
5) Give yourself time to do what needs doing.
When we are struck by overwhelm and stress, one of three things happens – we fight, we flee or we freeze. You know that you are someone who freezes if you have developed sophisticated distraction tactics that take you away from what needs doing.
If running out to the crowded shop right before gift giving happens, or if gift wrapping until 3am the night before, or if having to eat frozen chicken nuggets because they’re out of your dream meal has happened to you in Holidays past, then you may very well be a procrastinator.
(And sorry Mom, but being super busy here is no excuse…we’re all super busy…it’s just that some of us are better organized than others. Ouch, I know.).
What to do?
After getting over this pre-kid habit rather quickly, I became a strong advocate for: Planning for Presence. It sounds like an oxymoron, by when your life is full (which it inevitably is with kids), Moms sometimes need to carve out space where we can be completely in the moment with nothing else to distract them.
Let’s go back to what works when dealing with Mistake #1…identifying key priorities to define activities that will make memories to cherish. With this in mind and self-care at the forefront of absolutely everything, it’s time to do the prep work. It’s time to plan and organize our time.
Here are a few ideas to help you get organized:
- create a holiday to-do list that is categorized. Some categories might be: cards, decorating, entertaining, gifts and most importantly: self-care.
- under each heading write the to-dos and determine when they need to be done. Get out your calendar and write-up deadlines for each. Allocate chunks of time for each activity in your calendar. Breathe in. Now double the allocated time in your calendar.
- If you don’t have time in your calendar, see the red flag. This is an invitation to simplify. You can either:
- let something go (on your holiday list or in another area of life – letting Self-Care activities go during this time of year is against the law for mothers!)
- delegate and relinquish control (yes, completely!),
- take time off other projects…
Or, do all three!
Oh, and don’t forget to save your list for next year. Put it with the holiday decorations and pop a reminder in your electronic calendar now so that you are reminded and don’t need to redo this step again next year.
I know it sounds ridiculously anal, but after mothering for 10 years, my holiday to-do list has become my sanity saver. There’s nothing like that feeling of being on top of things – especially in December. Now there’s a Holiday novelty!
For more tools on de-stressing and simplifying your holiday season, check out the Ditch Stress & Be Merry, Mama free on-line workshop at: http://bit.ly/2geyVqe
Adapted from a piece originally published at medium.com